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Celebrating the ‘Great Night of Shiva’ in Kathmandu

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It was the night time earlier than a brand new moon, and a rotating palette of colour, reflecting off the buildings, floated like a halo in the mist. Silhouettes of cows dotted my periphery, accompanied by the mild rustle of their grazing on the riverbank.

As I approached the heart of the complicated, the crowds pressed nearer collectively, filling each inch of the paths and ghats, a time period for stairways in the Indian subcontinent, lining the sacred Bagmati River. Those who weren’t huddled underneath umbrellas or shielded by plastic luggage appeared content material sufficient to stay it out in the rain.

I had visited this Hindu temple earlier than — Pashupatinath, on the outskirts of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal — however solely in the broad daylight, and by no means amongst so many individuals.

The scents of burning wooden, marijuana and incense crammed the air — as did the spiced smoke of corpses being cremated on the far facet of the river. Rhythmic claps and chimes bounced round the temple partitions, in tandem with the night prayer enjoying over the loudspeaker.

I used to be experiencing the sensory abundance of Maha Shivaratri, the Great Night of Shiva.

Every yr, 1000’s of celebrants collect at Pashupatinath in honor of Shiva, one of Hinduism’s three most revered gods. The competition commemorates the marriage ceremony night time of Shiva and Parvati, a Hindu goddess. According to the Linga Purana, a sacred Hindu textual content, it additionally marks the day that Shiva took the kind of the lingam, an object — typically seen in the West as a phallic image — that’s usually discovered in temples and that represents the god’s infinite existence.

Attendees of Maha Shivaratri mark the holy competition with a variety of prayers and rituals. Devotees start bathing in the river at dawn, and descend the ghats all through the day to be cleansed. A puja, or worship ritual, is carried out each three hours on the Shiva lingam by bathing it with water, milk and honey alongside choices of fruit, sandalwood paste and incense. “Om Namah Shivaya,” the sacred mantra of Shiva, echoes by the temple complicated to invoke the internal consciousness and invite readability and prosperity. Practicing Hindus enter the major temple, which is lined with footwear that guests have eliminated, to be blessed by the temple monks. Some contributors observe a quick, whereas others intention to remain awake all by the night time.

As a holy providing to Shiva, Sadhus — Hindu holy males who put on saffron-colored clothes (or, often, none in any respect) — smoke marijuana out of chillums, or conventional clay pipes, sharing with these round them.

When I attended the competition, in February 2020, a participant dressed as Kali, the Hindu mom goddess typically depicted with wild hair and a necklace of skulls, walked round the temple grounds with an outstretched tongue, bulging eyes and 4 arms. She brushed passers-by with a bundle of peacock feathers, inviting them to position financial choices onto her platter.

But as is commonly the case with festivals that appeal to guests from round the world, there have been additionally individuals who got here purely for the spectacle, or to take pleasure in time with household and pals in a powerful — even mystical — setting.

Looking again on these images, as the world remains to be grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, I discover that the visible splendor is much less hanging than the sight of the crowds in such proximity.

Maha Shivaratri could be the final large-scale occasion that I — and absolutely 1000’s of the different contributors — would attend earlier than the virus’s unfold round the globe.

But at the time, proximity wasn’t but a priority. Many of us bumped and nudged our methods by the dense crowds. Strangers seated collectively in a small temple, we sat shoulder to shoulder, handed round a shared chillum and thoughtlessly shared the air.

Pashupatinath is commonly used as a cremation website, however the day of Maha Shivaratri is a very auspicious time for Hindus to move on to the subsequent life.

Earlier in the night, households had dipped the toes and washed the our bodies of their deceased family members — dressed in orange and marigold — with the holy water of the Bagmati River.

Now, as I left the temple, the air turning brisk as the collective warmth of all the shut our bodies gave solution to the cool air, I caught sight of 5 lit pyres, their orange flames set towards the darkish night time sky.